Remember Indiana Jones? “Professor of Archaeology, expert on the occult, and how does one say it… obtainer of rare antiquities”?
I grew up watching those silly movies. For way too long, I wanted to be an archaeologist. Then I took an archaeology class in college. It only took half a semester to figure out that archaeological excavation is tedious, thankless, and (mostly) completely lacking in the adventure depicted in the films. I struggled even to stay awake in class as the professor showed slide after slide of pot shards. I was finished.
Those wistful days of archaeological naps came back to me recently, as watched the new Netflix film The Dig. The Dig tells the story of the discovery, in 1939, of the Sutton Hoo. No, not a creature in a Dr. Seuss book, the Sutton Hoo was a burial site in rural England where, among other archaeological finds, were the remains of a burial ship, loaded with gold and other artifacts, from Anglo Saxons of the early medieval times. It was one of the most important historical discoveries of the 20th century, as it showed the world that the people of the 7th and 8th centuries were incredibly sophisticated artisans and ship builders. As Charles Phillips of the British Museum remarks in the film, “The dark ages are no longer dark.”
As the film remembers, the person responsible for the discovery was a man named Basil Brown. Despite the enormity of his discovery, though, Brown was left almost unrecognized for his achievement. The Sutton Hoo artifacts went on display a decade after their excavation with no mention of their excavator. Only in recent years was his name included in the vast exhibit space given to the artifacts within the British Museum. One website goes so far as to dub him “the invisible archaeologist.”